Cold Shower vs. Hot Shower: Health Benefits of Each Type

Clinical review: Manuel Reis
Registered Nurse
March 2022

Your bath or shower can promote different health benefits that vary depending on the temperature you use. Hot baths with temperatures around 37ºC (or 98.6ºF) are a great way to relax before going to bed or meditating. They are great way to decrease muscle tension, fatigue and day-to-day stress.

Cold showers can be uncomfortable for many people, but they are a great way to wake-up, combat fatigue and get you ready to start your activities of daily living. Cold baths can also relieve muscle pain or inflammation, and can even help to treat depression. 

The type of temperature you set for your shower will depend on the goals you are trying to reach, the health problem you are looking to treat and your tolerance to different water temperatures.  

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Benefits of a cold shower 

The health benefits that a cold shower can provide you with include: 

1. Stimulate the immune system 

A cold shower can help to strengthen the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells. White blood cells are known to be defense cells, which help to protect the body from illnesses like the cold or flu. 

One study completed in the Netherlands showed that people who take cold showers in the morning have less severe flu symptoms than people who take showers in normal temperature. The group who took cold showers also felt more energy and recovered quicker from illnesses. 

2. Improve your mood and mental status

A cold shower can increase your mood, mental status and feeling of wellbeing due to increased blood circulation. Better circulation can increase oxygenation, which will decrease fatigue. A cold shower can motivate you to complete your daily tasks. 

3. Improve blood circulation

Cold showers can improve blood circulation because when the cold water comes in contact with the skin, superficial blood vessels will contract. This improves circulation deeper within the body as the body works to maintain a normal internal temperature. 

In addition to making blood circulation more efficient, a cold shower can decrease the production of inflammatory substances and prevent cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure. 

However, if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or if you have a heart problem, you should see your cardiologist regularly, as a cold shower cannot substitute medical treatment. 

4. Help to treat depression

Some studies show that taking a cold shower can help with the treatment of depression. This is because cold water activates the cold receptors in the skin, which send several electric signals to the brain to increase endorphin levels. This is a neurotransmitter that helps promotes a feeling of well-being. 

Despite this, more studies are needed to support this effect. It is important for people with depression to continue to follow the treatment prescribed by their psychiatrist, as a cold shower can not substitute medical interventions. 

5. Decrease muscle pain

A cold shower constriction blood vessels, which can decrease muscular pain and help with muscle recovery following intense physical activity. Some studies show that cold baths can reduce symptoms associated with inflammation and prevent muscular fatigue. 

Because of the vasoconstriction that occurs, cold shower can also help to treat swelling. Nonetheless, cold showers are not sufficient to treat muscular pain or swelling on their own, and you should continue to follow any medical instructions from your doctor.  

6. Boost metabolism

Taking a cold shower can help to speed-up metabolism because when the skin is exposed to cold temperatures, the body will burn more energy to try to keep the internal temperature warm. This will help to burn calories. 

Cold showers can also stimulate the production of brown fat, which is a specific type of adipose tissue that generates energy when burned. This can especially useful for people looking to lose weight. 

7. Maintain healthy skin

A cold shower can help to maintain healthy skin, as it does not eliminate the natural oil found in skin and does not dry it out, which can happen with hot showers. Cold showers can also temporarily close skin pores, which reduces toxins and other pollutants from entering the skin and keeps the skin firm. 

Cold water also promotes vasoconstriction in the skin, which can help with redness and itching. This is especially beneficial for people with a history of skin conditions, like urticaria or eczema. 

8. Prevent dry hair

Taking cold showers and washing your hair in cold water can help the hair to retain its natural oils. Cold showers also help to close pores and seal off the cuticles on the tips, leaving hair softer, smoother and more hydrated. Closing hair pores can also protect thehair from pollutants and sweat, which can further dry out the hair. 

Washing your hair in cold water can be uncomfortable for many people, and therefore you should aim to at least wash your hair in luke warm water. Very hot water can dehydrate the strands and worsen overall dryness.  

Benefits of a hot shower

The main benefits of hot showers are:

1. Relieve respiratory problems 

A hot shower can help to relieve respiratory problems, like sinusitis, the flu or bronchitis. The warm and moist vapor from a hot shower can thin-out phlegm, open the airways, reduce throat irritation and swelling and relieve a runny or stuffy nose. It can also help to treat headaches and cough.  

2. Improve sleep

A hot shower before going to bed can help to relax the muscles and relieve muscular tension and fatigue, which will promote a better night’s sleep. 

A hot shower taken 60 to 90 minutes before sleeping can help to calm you, reduce stress and anxiety, and provide you with a clean sensation, which helps you to relax and fall asleep faster. 

3. Relax muscles 

Hot water can improve blood flow, which helps to relax muscles and relieve muscle pain. Increased circulation can help to transport lactic acid and other toxins out of the muscles, which can relieve pain. Hot water is indicated for muscular pain that has lasted for over 48 hours, as cold showers a better indicated for fresh injuries to reduce swelling. 

Hot showers may also be useful to relieve body tension, muscular pain and joint pain caused by fibromyalgia, arthritis or back pain. The hot water promotes vasodilation, which allows for increased blood, oxygen and nutrients to reach the body tissues. 

4. Remove skin toxins

A hot shower can help to open skin pores, which allows for deeper cleaning of dirt, accumulated oil and toxins from the skin. A hot shower can leave your skin visible more fresh and clean. 

5. Relieve migraines 

Increased blood flow that reaches the muscles can help to relieve headaches and migraines, as better circulation can decrease the pain signals reaching the brain. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in March 2022. Clinical review completed by Manuel Reis - Registered Nurse in March 2022.

References

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Clinical review:
Manuel Reis
Registered Nurse
Manuel graduated in 2013 and is licensed to practice under the Ordem dos Enfermeiros de Portugal, with license #79026. He specializes in Advanced Clinical Phytotherapy.